FAYETTEVILLE – The Razorbacks couldn’t complete the sweep but with Saturday’s doubleheader split did win a SEC series from LSU in Baton Rouge, La. for the first time since sweeping three from the Tigers at LSU’s Alex Box Stadium in 2004.
Arkansas won 7-0 Friday night behind the combined shutout by pitchers Patrick Wicklander and Kevin Kopps and big 5-RBI bat of center fielder Christian Franklin.
In Saturday’s day-night doubleheader Arkansas outslugged LSU, 17-10 in the opener and in the nightcap saw a 3-run ninth-inning rally fall a run short, 5-4.
Coach Dave Van Horn’s nationally No. 1 Razorbacks leave Baton Rouge, 34-8 overall and leading the SEC West at 15-6.
“You know for the most part it was a real good weekend winning 2 out of 3 on the road down here,” Van Horn said Saturday night. “Just disappointed that we didn’t have a chance to see that last inning through. But it was a good weekend. Good for us to come down here and win the series and move on to the next one.”
After this week’s University of Arkansas final exams the Razorbacks next play Georgia of the SEC East in a 3-game SEC series hosting at Baum-Walker Stadium at 6:30 p.m. Friday, 6 p.m. Saturday on the SEC Network and 2 p.m Sunday.
Coach Paul Mainieri’s Tigers, 26-17 overall/7-14 in the SEC West, next play Southern University in a Tuesday nonconference game then visit SEC West rival Auburn for a 3-game SEC West series.
Completing their seventh 3-game SEC series of the season, the last four with doubleheaders because of rainouts or rainy forecasts, the Razorbacks have won 2 of 3 six times and swept one.
Down 5-0 after three innings Saturday night and trailing, 5-1 going into the ninth, the Hogs menaced LSU closer Devin Fontenot. Greenbrier’s Cayden Wallace’s leadoff single, Brady Slavens’ walk, and Franklin’s single loaded the bases with none out.
Robert Moore’s sacrifice fly netted a run. Hit a little higher or a little more to the right or left, Casey Opitz’s line drive might have driven home two. It netted nothing directly embedded in third baseman Cade Doughty’s glove.
“Opitz hit a screamer and the third baseman’s right there,” Van Horn said. “Sometimes you’ve got to be lucky. We were one big hit away from tying that game up or winning that game. But you’ve got to give credit to LSU’s defense. They played great today. They outplayed us the second game and we almost beat them.”
Jalen Battles’ 2-run single drew it to 5-4 before Fontenot got Zack Gregory looking at the game-ending called third strike.
Fontenot weathering his shaky ninth saved the better efforts of winning starter Mak’hail Hilliard, 4-0 and leading 5-1 after five innings, and setup man Garrett Edwards, no runs and just one hit from the sixth through the eighth.
“He (Hilliard) had a nice lead to work with, too, and I think he got comfortable out there,” Van Horn said. “He gave them five quality innings and just one run (Franklin’s fourth-inning sacrifice fly) and turned it over to Edwards. He’s the one who really pitched well. We didn’t do much against him.”
And the Hogs didn’t get much out of Saturday night starter Lael Lockhart, weathered out of starting last weekend at South Carolina and outed in the first by Doughty’s 3-run home run after yielding a single, a wild pitch and a hit batsman, and a walk after Doughty’s dinger.
“It really all started on the mound,” Van Horn said. “He (Lockhart) couldn’t get out of the first. That was tough to swallow for the team.”
Zebulon Vermillion recorded the final two outs in the first and was charged with solitary runs in the second and third.
Caden Monke for 2 2/3 innings with just one hit and no walks against five strikeouts, and Kopps, 4 four strikeouts against one hit and a walk for three inning, shut out the Tigers thereafter.
“Monke was outstanding,” Van Horn said. “Kopps was great.”
In Saturday afternoon’s doubleheader opener Arkansas scored the first-inning knockout. The Hogs led 5-0 before LSU’s swing against Arkansas starter Peyton Pallette. Franklin’s 2-run single, Robert Moore’s 2-run triple and Cullen Smith’s double knocked in the runs.
Including Franklin’s 2-run double and Moore’s 2-run home run, Arkansas scored in seven in Saturday’s fifth inning and scored four more in the sixth and one in the eighth while amassing 19 hits.
Benton’s Pallette, pitching OK early then laboring in Van Horn’s view for his 66 pitches, was removed up 12-2 after a 4-pitch walk leading off the fifth.
“He was not very sharp at the time,” Van Horn said. “That’s why we pulled him.”
Reliever Ryan Costeiu, credited with the win, only yielded a run for his two innings, but Connor Noland got worked over for his first work since an early-season injury.
LSU hammered Noland for six runs in the seventh and also scored off reliever Caleb Bolden.
Despite the 7-0 final score, Friday night featured a pitcher’s duel.
Wicklander and LSU starter Landon Marceaux matched scoreboard zeroes through six innings with Arkansas not only run-less but hitless.
Franklin changed that with a 2-run single in the seventh and 3-run home run in the 5-run eighth.
“It was good to see him (Franklin) get after it this first game, and then also yesterday,” Van Horn said Saturday night. “He had a big hit in the ninth tonight for us, too.”
Wicklander pitched a 3-hit shutout through his 6 2-3.
Kopps recorded his sixth save Friday inheriting a 2-0 lead in the seventh. He finished the final 2 1-3 with five strikeouts and no LSU hits.
Kopps’ two appearances against LSU lowered his earned run average to 0.92.